multiculturalism and xenophobia in a context of austerity

02. Teampall an Ghleanntáin – Hickeys by Mick O'Brien & Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh on Grooveshark

There is something to be said about economic crimes and their perpetrators — they are virtually ignored in how serious they can be. In a worldwide ever-spreading austerity it is important to keep in mind what causes what, and how a seemingly innocent economic policy can have real world devastating effects. Though there are many such effects, I’d like to address xenophobia in particular, with its allied concept multiculturalism.

The signs are growing and clearer than ever. Golden Dawn party in Greece, riots in Sweden and violence in England. France’s seemingly ethnically driven riots a few years ago were almost like a warning. Meanwhile, news propagate the religious and ethnic logic instead of the actual economic causes. A clash of civilisations, of peoples, of religions or even of inborn intellectual capacities. Poorer countries and cultures are written off as lazy and incapable by nature. An interesting article in a tabloid read “White vs. Islamic culture”, as if religion and ethnicity were even comparable. Cui bono? Who exactly benefits from this ideology? What exactly is it saying?

While it may be clear in the literature that austerity and inequality lead to the root causes of riots and xenophobia, and that hegemonic states lead to violence between their own citizens, these are largely hard to understand because they require a depth of understanding of social processes not generally available to the public. So we buy into the “multiculturalism failed” and “islam as a bad influence on society”, when what we should be reading is “economic policies cause riots” and “economists responsible for crimes against humanity”. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

When living at SPCC I ran into a symptomatic situation involving xenophobia and poverty. One of our residents, let’s call him X, was a first generation Portuguese citizen with Muslim and African parents. Needless to say his family struggled but gave him a hard working ethics, which he followed sporadically. X was a street punk and enjoyed his drugs and alcohol, so he’d get odd construction jobs while living with us. During that same time, we also had to illegal migrant residents. Since for the most part we lived in a state of surplus, all residents got along fairly well. But when food wasn’t enough or some would put in more work than others, the arguments would start.

Note that since in certain surplus moments things were okay (meaning, food, energy, drinks, leisure weren’t an issue), and in moments of scarcity they weren’t, and since the people were the same, it was this “micro-economic” state of our community that was determining the changes in interactions and behaviour. Frequently I’d do a shop run for food just to prevent arguments. X was generally a positive and happy member of our community. The interesting thing was when our “micro-economy” would go in the red (not enough food, not enough working hands). X would turn to the migrants and say “Go get a job! Go back to your country! Fucking (ethnicity) not wanting to work!” X’s poor understanding of politics and economics meant he had no real way of rationalising his frustrations. The frustrations themselves were justified: there he was, a working class 1st generation citizen working his ass off for some beer, and there they were, the illegal migrants at our squat not wanting to contribute and living off our community for free. This is a political issue within the community, but since they also had an external characteristic (their ethnicity), that characteristic became part of the rationalisation and with it made X into a xenophobe. X, the black muslim descendant in a white catholic portugal was being xenophobic towards migrants. This, to me, was a profound contradiction but spelled out nothing more than that xenophobia, racism or even islamophobia are simply symptoms of socio-economic forces that create these tensions.

SPCC was a clear example of multiculturalism. We had hundreds of nationalities over, frequently 5 or more cultures interacting with each other and no conflicts in general, unless there was an economic issue with the community. X’s xenophobia is like the waves of xenophobia and islamophobia that we can expect only to get worse in the coming years. They express legitimate frustrations of working class people that have no other way of articulating their problems than the simplified we/them black/white catholic/muslim false dichotomies.

The media, whose job it is to inform and provide meaningful rationalisations to the public, does so according to an agenda that benefits the ruling class (generally white and judeo-christian), and therefore provides bogus rationalisations instead. “Multiculturalism failed” is going to be the catchphrase for the coming social turmoil of a disenfranchised generation. Meanwhile, the policies and policy makers that are responsible for it failing can walk away freely, since this logic protects them and instead blames the very people that are victimised by these policies. If it’s multiculturalism that failed, then it isn’t austerity and bad economic policies that failed, and economic crime can continue unpunished. If Islam and Christianity are incompatible, then it isn’t the bad integration policies and cultural education in schools. If black people are dumber than white people, then it isn’t that white people have enslaved and oppressed these minorities into submission. Clearly these phrases are terrifying, but they are the logic behind these news. Sadly, I fear that we will see more of this as inequality and austerity extend further and further.

In the light of this, I stick to what I know. Power determines behaviour and social unrest is a symptom of the incompetence and corruption of those in power. Whenever anyone in power attributes social problems to external factors, beware.

Perhaps on topic, perhaps not, but a classic nonetheless.

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